As my colleague, Isaac, and I drove into a school in Eastlands, we found hundreds of children outside the gate. It was a Saturday, so people around were wondering why there were so many children from different schools there. We knew, but we decided to ask anyway, for advertising purposes.
“Hello children, what are you all waiting for?” asked Isaac.
“We are waiting for the Storyhippo Spelling Bee,” chorused the excited children.
You may wonder what that is, and what it has to do with bees. The Storyhippo Spelling Bee is a competition that Storymoja developed to get our school children thrilled by words and reading. It is quite clear that one way to learn how to write well, which includes good spelling, is by reading a lot. We all know that competition makes any activity more exciting, so the idea of combining spelling and competitions is great way to encourage kids to read more so that they can win.
The name is derived from the American Spelling Bee, a similar competition in the United States. The word bee has historically been used to describe a get-together where a specific action is being carried out, for example, a husking bee, a quilting bee, or an apple bee. Storyhippo, as you may know, is our imprint for our exciting range of children’s books.
The spelling competition targets primary school children between 9 and 13 years in both public and private schools around Nairobi. Organizing the spelling bee involves word selection, categorizing the words for the different classes and inviting the schools and judges. Although we did not have a sponsor for the preliminaries this year, we collaborated with Citizen TV to record the semi finals as a TV program that is set to air sometime in August.
This is the second time Storymoja has organized the Spelling Bee. The first was last year, with finals held at the Storymoja Nyamachoma Fiesta last August. 40 Schools and 140 students participated enthusiastically, even though the concept was new to them.
This year, about 70 public and private primary schools took part in the first level of the Spelling Bee. The competition was tougher this year because the qualifiers were to compete on a recorded TV show. The words were tougher and the rules were tighter. Some of the words that were featured included fastidious, evanescented, counterfeit, chauffeur among others. I’m sure you can all appreciate how tough the competition was. During the first two rounds of the competition, the children picked words randomly from a box. They were allowed to ask for a dictionary meaning and/or another sentence with the same word. During the third round, however, the words got harder and the contestants were not given dictionary meanings. It was therefore a wonder to see a ten-year-old boy pull ahead of other older competitors by spelling anachronism. I bet most of you can’t spell this word, let alone know it’s meaning! It was amazing to watch the talented children. The teachers were also challenged and vowed to make sure that their kids remain on the top of the game for the next rounds.
45 proud schools got their students onto the TV show. A total of 63 students participated in the TV competition. It was recorded at Brookhouse School in March. During the recording, there were scenes of excitement, disappointment and even despair among both the children and teachers. After every elimination round, there was always a child crying bitterly in some corner. It was therefore a great relief for the children to hear that apart from the three winners of the TV show competition, all the rest would get a chance to compete once again at the Storymoja Hay Festival from July 31st to August 2nd.
During the festival, all the contestants will participate in the semi finals in different tents. The finals will be held on the main stage. It will be a huge event because the festival will bring together international and local writers and other prominent people in many fields for a “Festival of Ideas.” (Please check our website for more details about the Storymoja Hay Festival). You had better be there because this will be an event not to miss!
As we wait for the finals, we hope that the children are reading widely and garnering support from their friends to make this the biggest and most exciting spelling bee in Kenya. And Storymoja will get more converts to believe in our motto that “Reading is Cool!”
Written by Carol Gaithuma